The Options Before Nigeria


By Michael Owhoko

In the midst of sustained challenge for restructuring and other sundry agitations in Nigeria, there is iota of hope, if only the ruling class is prepared to do the needful, writes Michael Owhoko

Nigeria has been through quite a lot in recent times than at any other time in its political history, but at this very moment, aside the almost resolved security challenges facing Nigeria, issues relating to self-determination and restructuring are some of the burning issues that the government of the day is grappling to manage.

As it is, close observer will easily say the incumbent leadership of the federal government is not favourably disposed to restructuring, whereas, sentiments have easily been aroused by proponents and opponents of the restructuring debate.  Unfortunately, while the civil society and geopolitical interests have been calling for some changes in the Nigerian constitution as a way to perfect and strengthen the union that constitutes Nigeria, the citizenry are not adequately motivated to fully join the clamour either because of lack of clear understanding of the issues at stake or are overwhelmed by economic concerns.

First, either for or against restructuring as currently being canvassed, it is obvious that the people of the South and the North are not on the same page.  Nigerian must understand that as a multi-ethnic society with diverse cultural dissimilarities, the country qualifies as a sociologically complex society, posing a serious challenge to the country’s continued existence as one united nation.  This makes it imperative as a matter of necessity to do the needful and embark on a constitutional amendment that will give birth to a restructured new Nigeria.

Secondly, in discussing issues relating to the Nigerian structure, which evidently, is defective, and the sustained clamour for a truly federal constitution, primordial sentiments must be avoided because as things stand, objectivity is being overwhelmed by emotions depending on who is looking at what issues and the side of the divide on which he or she is rooted. The overall consequence of this will be unhelpful to decision-making process, as emphasis may be on sectional rather than national interest, even at the highest level of governance.

In reality, the Northern Protectorate, which comprises mainly the Hausa-Fulani people and the Southern Protectorate, made up of the Yoruba, Igbo and the Niger Deltans,  are initially district nations with separate cultural peculiarities before they were merged by the British colonial masters strictly for business and administrative purposes in the 1914 amalgamation.

Though the motive was not clear, but it is certainly not unconnected with achieving cost efficiency without passing the incidence of the cost of administration to the home country. This was so because the Northern Region was already experiencing budget deficit at the time when the Southern Protectorate had a robust budget with surplus.

From the onset, not many Nigerians were happy about the forced marriage. In fact, in one of his reactions to the Nigerian nationhood, the leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the Sardauna of Sokoto, late Sir Ahmadu Bella once said: “The mistake of 1914 has come to light and I shall like to go no further again.” Likewise, the leader of the Action Group (AG), late Chief Obafemi Awolowo also said: “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no Nigerians in the same sense as there are English, Welsh, or French. The word Nigeria is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.

Chief Awolowo, in his book, The Peoples’ Republic, further confirmed the brittleness of the Nigerian state when he said, “It is incontestable that the British not only made Nigeria, but also hand it to us whole on their surrender of power. But the Nigeria, which they handed over to us, had in it the forces of its own disintegration. It is up to contemporary Nigerian leaders to neutralize these forces, preserve the Nigerian inheritance, and make all our people free, forward-looking and prosperous. “

The two men were apparently referring to the unhealthy amalgamation of 1914, and from then till now the Nigerian people themselves have not shown signs of willingness to unite, a confirmation that Nigeria is only a British intention and except other viable options are explored, the fragile peace in the country can still snowball into total disintegration because the country is surely on the precipice.

The most reliable option available to Nigeria is a federal system of government as practised in the country in the first republic from 1960 till 1966. I say this because the fear of Nigeria’s founding fathers has always been that the colonial masters failed to take into consideration the ethnic and cultural differences which ultimately shape peoples’ perception and decisions, hence as it is today, the allegiance of Nigeria’s founding fathers was to their respective regions, and by extension, current leadership, though surreptitiously.

Nigeria purportedly operates a federal system of government today, but the main defect is the absence of the features of that form of government, namely, autonomy of the federating units.  This is conspicuously missing as evident from the dependency structure between the states and the centre.  In a truly federal system, certain characteristics pertaining to the federating units are present, and some these include state-owned constitution, regional police, coat of arm, and so on.

This level of autonomy allows the units to adopt peculiar and independent style of administration to address their specific needs incidental to their culture, values and heritage. Then there is also something very vital that true federalism guarantees and that is fiscal federalism. This defines and provides the framework of financial relationship between the centre (federal government) and the rest of the states.

Chief among what proponents of restructuring are actually calling for and which are well enumerated in my book: Nigeria on the Precipice: Issues, Options and Solutions –  Lessons for Emerging Heterogeneous Democratic Societies , is a constitution that promotes fiscal federalism under which each region is at liberty to generate its own resources and discharge its statutory responsibilities within the limit of its resources, while also maintaining its status as an autonomous state within the federation.

Truth is, researchers, analysts and well-meaning Nigerians have collectively agreed that the bane of Nigeria’s problem is the transition from federal system to the unitary system as perpetrated by the military during their illegal incursions into politics in 1966.

It was during that period that the principle of derivation, an element of fiscal federalism, which was designed to ensure equity by way of compensation to the area from where mineral resources are extracted, was abandoned, whereas, when cocoa, groundnut and oil palm were sources of revenue in the country, the principle of derivation was applied.  This was why the western, northern and eastern regions benefited from 50 percent derivation as provided for by the 1963 constitution.

Now, the challenge is, the Nigerian economy is largely dependent on oil, hence it occupies a place of prominence in the country’s revenue matrix but unfortunately, the exploration of oil in the Niger Delta region has not only had very negative effects on the environment, but the abrogation of the derivation principle has stripped it of its due share of national revenue, making the people of the region to have less to show for the quantum of wealth being taken out of their land.  The derivation principle is currently pegged at a minimum of 13 percent.

Currently, Nigeria is draped with unresolved national issues that are capable of relapsing into an albatross around its neck because these issues are also the forces pulling apart the people of the country. Every ethnic group and every section has one grievance or the other against the Nigerian state. As indicated in my book and in consonance with other opinionated Nigerians, the resentments are as a result of the flawed process that led to the emergence of Nigeria as a country.

The somewhat reluctance of government to address these challenges is exacerbating concomitant frustration in the country and this is slowly but gradually killing the spirit of patriotism with regrettable decline in commitment towards national unity without which there cannot be any meaningful progress. For instance, the Biafra agitation is nothing but one of the symptoms of discontent, so too the militancy in the Niger Delta Region is an indication of frustration in the Niger Delta.

The long and short of this article is that the Nigerian nation is not working, particularly due to the application of wrong solutions induced by insincerity and hypocrisy and as a result, the future of the country is bleak, and, this explains why the clamour for restructuring is gaining unprecedented dimension more than at any time in history.

There is no rocket science to it. The way for Nigeria to go is true federalism, which guarantees fiscal federalism, and implicitly, financial autonomy. This will ensure equity in the administration of revenue because the pattern of revenue sharing formula has remained a bone of contention between federal and state governments. In such circumstance, the principle of derivation serves as a mechanism against revenue injustice, but where true federalism fails to be accepted, confederalism becomes the other available option.

Also, the steady escalation of tension in the country can be doused if the ruling class can throw pride to the wind and chart the path of peace and honour in their approach to resolving the current challenges facing the country by conducting a referendum. Through a referendum, the people can actively participate in deciding which system of government to adopt. Referendum is a political instrument for resolving political questions. It is an aggregation of the wish of the people.

Nigeria has the potential to grow capacity for global relevance, but suppression of the wishes of the people is capable of frustrating this hope.  So, let us concede ethic and sectional pride and allow the country to be repositioned through restructuring to enthrone justice and equity aimed at achieving peace, happiness and progress.

Michael Owhoko, author, Nigeria on The Precipice: Issues, Options and Solutions – Lessons for Emerging Heterogeneous Democratic Societies, wrote from Lagos. 

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